Daylight breaks before Cedar rests. She has not stopped moving since her flight from the insects and has been traveling at a near-running pace for what feels like an eternity. She has no idea which direction she moved, how fast she was moving, nor any sense of how much time has transpired. She had lost track of the follower soon after escaping. Worse, she left her companion behind to die alone. If not for an almost instinctual homing sense that had surfaced as she ran, attempts to bury her fear and guilt would have been impossible.
The dull, audible “hiss” from a large body of moving water tells her that she has reached her intended destination; though whose intent it was, exactly, still remains uncertain. After pushing feebly through a thicket of briar and vines, Cedar finds herself standing amid a small clearing that was once home to human structures. Though old, they do not look like old-world ruins. Rather, their style seems more peculiar to structures she has seen littering the Hinterlands, built by ancient peoples who had lived sometime after the old-world humans.
Having been stressed far beyond its natural limits, Cedar’s body screams in defiance and finally demands that she stop. She falls to her knees by the water’s edge, feeling the rhythm of her heart pounding in her temples. She splashes water on her face and head and then quenches her burning throat. Cedar falls into a heap on the shore and attempts to calm her frenzied thoughts and breathing. The sun has moved higher into the sky before her chest stops heaving from overexertion. The injured stranger’s face appears in her mind’s eye. Focusing on the homing instinct had given her mind an excuse to ignore what she has just done. But now that she has arrived, she finds it impossible to let go of his image.
Despite having only known him for a brief few hours, he came to represent something important. The simple fact that he existed was symbolic of a truth that Cedar has known all along but had somehow failed to fully grasp. The world is much larger than she had imagined. There’s more, of course. Meeting the injured man awoke a part of her that had been put to sleep in much the same way her repressed memories had been concealed. His presence alone was enough to summon impressions of faithful companionship she once shared with a man who had played a significant role in her life but whom she has inexplicably forgotten. Both the stranger and the forgotten man had instigated the same sense of breathless fascination from deep within her being.
If she could only just remember …if she could only just forget…
Not typically prone to overtly emotional outbursts, she is surprised by its forcefulness once it does emerge. Cedar’s chest, still stinging from its earlier trial, begins heaving once again. Though, in this instance, it is not caused by any physical exertion.
Exhaustion eventually wins the battle over hunger, and Cedar climbs into a nook hidden within the ruins to sleep. Night has fallen before she awakens. The people of her village have always called this area of forested highlands the Graves. It’s been warned that all who have ventured into the treacherous domain of steep elevation rises and drops, dense wilderness, and dangerous predators have died here. Having no keen interest in repeating her jaunt into the Graves at night, she remains within her hidden nook. She eats the last of her rations before succumbing again to fatigue.